When Lacey Tucker decided to attend a country music festival last month, she never imagined a stranger would help her survive one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history.
As bullets sprayed into the crowd of 22,000 concertgoers, Tucker grabbed her cousin and sister-in-law to find an exit. She lost sight of her best friend, Samantha Carranza, in the chaos of people scrambling for safety.
Now, Tucker is using the Facebook page “Find Your LV Hero” to search for John – another concertgoer who found Samantha and reunited the four women. In her plea, Tucker described how John and his wife assumed the role of mom and dad after she expressed her desire to just “go home.” After reassuring her that they would, John held Tucker’s hand, then went back to look for Samantha.
“It felt like I was a lost little girl and my dad just found me,” Tucker said. “It was the most comfort I ever felt. It was crazy.”
John found Samantha after yelling her name in places closer to the venue. After the four women were reunited, John and his wife slipped away without exchanging contact information.
“I would love to meet him and hug him and tell him thank you for being there when I needed you,” Tucker told CNN. “Thank you for being our guardian angel. The whole time I was in there, I kept praying God be with us, God we need you here, and I think God sent him to us because that was the moment I needed him.”
“Find Your LV Hero” was launched by Ashton Zyer a couple of days after the mass shooting. She created the page after seeing posts from survivors trying to track down the people who helped them that night. Some of the posts express gratitude to those who saved lives by driving the wounded to hospitals. Others thank strangers for smaller acts of kindness, like words of comfort or an embrace.
The requests pouring into the page’s in-box come both from survivors wanting to reach those who helped them, and from people who want to know how those they helped are doing.
So far, Zyer has facilitated over 30 connections using clues like names, physical descriptions or descriptions of the scene. Zyer, who was supposed to attend the concert but didn’t, says that initially she alone spent entire days working on making the connections. Now, she spends at least an hour a day researching and reaching out to people.
“I didn’t even imagine I would get that many people looking and searching,” Zyer said. “I didn’t even imagine how deep the connection was and how desperate they would be to find these people, and I couldn’t believe the relief they felt when they found them, and the excitement.”
A successful connection
Thanks to the Facebook page, Chris Gilman and her wife were reunited with the married couple who helped stop Gilman from bleeding to death. Gilman attended the concert with her wife of 17 years, Aliza Correa, and friends. Gilman didn’t immediately register the popping noises around them as bullets. When she finally did, all she could think to do was drop to the floor and call her neighbor for reassurance that they’d take care of her pets.
That’s when she felt a severe burning in her side. She fell on her back, and her wife started screaming. Gilman had been shot and couldn’t move. She urged her wife to run and save herself.
Correa responded bluntly: “If you die, I die. I’m not leaving you, so if you don’t want me to die, get up and run,” Gilman remembered. With her wife’s help, Gilman started to crawl toward the VIP bleachers.
It’s there she met Alex Valiente, but she didn’t see his face because she was lying on her stomach. Alex and his wife, Wanda, were asking if anybody had been shot. When Gilman’s wife said yes, Alex told Wanda to use Correa’s shirt to stop the bleeding, and together they placed Gilman’s arms around their shoulders and dragged her to the street. Once Gilman was on her back, she finally put a face to the voices helping her.
It was also the last time Gilman saw their faces – until she found “Find Your LV Hero” on her Facebook timeline while lying in the hospital. With just a few physical details, she posted a plea. Three days later, she connected with the couple, both of whom work as Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies.
“There’s just a sense of peace and healing knowing who saved my life, not just for me, but for them, too,” Gilman told CNN. “I think it’s important for people who got people out to know how the people they helped are doing, to help them heal and to move on.”
Gilman and Wanda Valiente stay in touch four to five times a week through text messages. They have not spoken on the phone. Gilman says a phone call might make her “break down and cry.”
“How do you thank people who put their own life in jeopardy to save someone else?” Gilman said. “A total stranger. Nothing that I’ll ever be able to do to thank them. They were completely selfless.”
In December, Gilman and her wife will travel to Los Angeles to see family, but also to meet the Valientes in person.
“A huge gift to me is being able to see them face to face and being able to thank them,” Gilman said. “The whole thing is unbelievable. Just knowing we’ll be in contact for the rest of my life … it’s just amazing.”
Requests still pouring in
Even a month after the shooting, survivors and the people who helped them survive continue to search for each other. Postings searching for someone go up almost daily, as messages pour in to the page’s in-box and community tab.
For the page’s founder, Zyer, the most overwhelming thing from “Find Your LV Hero” so far has been how much healing it’s provided.
“When I heard them say ‘I finally feel like I can start healing now,’ like this is the piece of them that they needed before they could move on, that was the part that was overwhelming,” Zyer said. “They would say, ‘If I never found this person it would have haunted me my whole life.’ That’s pretty intense.”